New bill addresses economic competition with China while also addressing human rights concerns over Xinjiang, Hong Kong.
Joe Biden, the president of the United States, has dropped Trump-era executive orders that attempted to ban the popular apps TikTok and WeChat and will conduct its own review aimed at identifying national security risks with software applications tied to China.
A new executive order on Wednesday directed the Department of Commerce to undertake what officials described as an “evidence-based” analysis of transactions involving apps that are manufactured or supplied or controlled by China.
Officials said they were particularly concerned about apps that collect users’ persona data or have connections to the Chinese military or intelligence activities.
The department also will make recommendations on how to further protect Americans’ genetic and personal health information, and will address the risks of certain software apps connected to China or other adversaries, according to senior administration officials.
The move by Biden reflects the continuing concern that Americans’ personal data could be exposed by popular apps tied to China, a chief US economic and political rival.
TikTok declined to comment. WeChat did not immediately comment.
“This is a positive step in the right direction,” said Gao Feng, spokesperson at the Chinese commerce ministry, at a regular press conference on Thursday.
Gao added that China had noticed that the US requires a new security review of the apps, and hopes that “the US will treat Chinese companies fairly and avoid politicizing economic and trade issues”.
The White House and Congress have both taken action to address Beijing’s technological advancement.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a bill that aims to boost US semiconductor production and the development of artificial intelligence and other technology in the face of growing international competition.
The administration earlier this year had backed off former President Donald Trump’s attempts to ban the popular video app TikTok, asking a court to postpone a legal dispute as the government began a broader review of the national security threats posed by Chinese technology companies.
A court filing said the Department of Commerce was reviewing whether Trump’s claims about TikTok’s threat to national security justified the attempts to ban it from smartphone app stores and deny it vital technical services. An update to the review was due in a court case later this week.
Also in limbo has been a proposed US takeover of TikTok. Last year, the Trump administration brokered a deal that would have had US corporations Oracle and Walmart take a large stake in the Chinese-owned app on national security grounds.
The unusual arrangement stemmed from a Trump executive order that aimed to ban TikTok in the US unless it accepted a greater degree of US control.
Trump targeted TikTok over the summer of 2020 with a series of orders that cited concerns over the US data that TikTok collects from its users. Courts temporarily blocked the White House’s attempted ban, and the presidential election soon overshadowed the TikTok fight.
TikTok has been looking to the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit to review Trump’s divestment order and the government’s national security review.